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DEALING WITH WORKPLACE

BULLYING - A WORKERS GUIDE

May 2016

Safe Work Australia is an Australian Government statutory agency established in 2009. Safe
Work Australia consists of representatives of the Commonwealth, state and territory
governments, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Australian Chamber of Commerce
and Industry and the Australian Industry Group.
Safe Work Australia works with the Commonwealth, state and territory governments to improve
work health and safety and workers compensation arrangements. Safe Work Australia is a
national policy body, not a regulator of work health and safety. The Commonwealth, states and
territories have responsibility for regulating and enforcing work health and safety laws in their
jurisdiction.
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Except for the logos of Safe Work Australia, SafeWork SA, WorkSafe Tasmania, WorkSafe WA,
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TABLE OF CONTENTS

DEALING WITH WORKPLACE BULLYING - A WORKERS GUIDE

TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

1.1.

What is workplace bullying?

1.2.

What is not workplace bullying?

Reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way

Unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment

Workplace conflict

1.3.

How can workplace bullying occur?

1.4.

Impact of workplace bullying

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

2.1.

Are you experiencing or witnessing workplace bullying?

2.2.

Next steps if the behaviour does not appear to be workplace bullying

2.3.

Next steps if the behaviour does appear to be workplace bullying

Refer to your workplace policies and procedures

Speak to the other person

Seek advice

Report it

10

2.4.

What to do if you are accused of workplace bullying

10

Give the complaint serious consideration

10

Seek an objective opinion about the behaviour

10

Adjust unreasonable behaviour

11

WHAT SHOULD YOU EXPECT FROM YOUR WORKPLACE?

12

WHERE CAN YOU GO FOR HELP?

13

Work Health and Safety Regulators

13

Fair Work Commission

14

Human Rights and anti-discrimination agencies

14

Support services

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1 INTRODUCTION

Workplace bullying is a risk to health and safety because it may affect the mental and physical
health of workers. Failure to take steps to manage the risk of workplace bullying can result in a
breach of Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws.
Everyone at the workplace has a work health and safety duty and can help to prevent workplace
bullying. Under WHS laws, while at work, workers must take reasonable care that their
behaviour does not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons. Workers must also
comply, so far as is reasonably practicable, with any reasonable instruction given by the person
conducting the business or undertaking (PCBU) and co-operate with reasonable policies and
procedures of the PCBU that the worker has been notified of, such as a workplace bullying
policy.
This guide is intended to help workers determine if workplace bullying is occurring and how to
prevent and deal with it. It provides information for workers who may be experiencing or
witnessing workplace bullying and for those who have had a bullying report made against them.
This is the second version of this guide. It will continue to be revised as strategies for preventing
and dealing with workplace bullying evolve.

1.1. What is workplace bullying?


Workplace bullying can adversely affect the psychological and physical health of a person.
Workplace bullying is a psychological hazard that has the potential to harm a person, and it also
creates a psychological risk as there is a possibility that a person may be harmed if exposed to
it. If effective control measures are put in place to address and resolve workplace issues early,
a workplace can minimise the risk of workplace bullying and prevent it from becoming
acceptable behaviour in the workplace.
Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a
group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.
Repeated behaviour refers to the persistent nature of the behaviour and can involve a range of
behaviours over time.
Unreasonable behaviour means behaviour that a reasonable person, having considered the
circumstances, would see as unreasonable, including behaviour that is victimising, humiliating,
intimidating or threatening.
Not all behaviour that makes a person feel upset or undervalued at work is workplace bullying.
Examples of behaviours, whether intentional or unintentional, that may be workplace bullying if
they are repeated, unreasonable and create a risk to health and safety include, but are not
limited to:

abusive, insulting or offensive language or comments

aggressive and intimidating conduct

belittling or humiliating comments

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victimisation

practical jokes or initiation

unjustified criticism or complaints

deliberately excluding someone from work-related activities

withholding information that is vital for effective work performance

setting unreasonable timelines or constantly changing deadlines

setting tasks that are unreasonably below or beyond a persons skill level

denying access to information, supervision, consultation or resources to the detriment of the


worker

spreading misinformation or malicious rumours, and

changing work arrangements, such as rosters and leave, to deliberately inconvenience a


particular worker or workers.

If the behaviour involves violence, for example physical assault or the threat of physical assault,
it should be reported to the police.

1.2. What is not workplace bullying?


A single incident of unreasonable behaviour is not workplace bullying however, it may be
repeated or escalate and so should not be ignored.

REASONABLE MANAGEMENT ACTION TAKEN IN A REASONABLE WAY


It is reasonable for managers and supervisors to allocate work and give feedback on a workers
performance. These actions are not considered to be workplace bullying if they are carried out
in a lawful and reasonable way, taking the particular circumstances into account. A manager
exercising their legitimate authority at work may result in some discomfort for a worker. The
question of whether management action is conducted in a reasonable way is determined by
considering the actual management action rather than a workers perception of it, and where
management action involves a significant departure from established policies or procedures,
whether the departure was reasonable in the circumstances.
What is reasonable would be determined by an objective test through a court of law. However, a
court could consider the following examples as reasonable management action:

setting realistic and achievable performance goals, standards and deadlines

fair and appropriate rostering and allocation of working hours

transferring a worker to another area or role for operational reasons

deciding not to select a worker for a promotion where a fair and transparent process is
followed

informing a worker about unsatisfactory work performance in an honest, fair and constructive
way

informing a worker about unreasonable behaviour in an objective and confidential way

implementing organisational change or restructuring, and

taking disciplinary action including suspension or termination of employment where


appropriate or justified in the circumstances.

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UNLAWFUL DISCRIMINATION AND SEXUAL HARASSMENT


Unreasonable behaviour may involve unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment which in
isolation is not bullying.
Discrimination on the basis of a protected trait in employment may be unlawful under antidiscrimination, equal employment opportunity, workplace relations and human rights laws.
Generally, unlawful discrimination is where a person or group of people are treated unfairly or
less favourably than others because they have a particular characteristic or belong to a
particular group of people. Protected traits include race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age,
physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carers responsibilities, pregnancy, religion,
political opinion, national extraction or social origin. For example, it would be unlawful for an
employer not to employ or promote a woman because she is pregnant or may become
pregnant.
The WHS Act prohibits a person from engaging in discriminatory conduct for a prohibited
reason. For example, it is unlawful for a person to terminate the employment of a worker for
raising health and safety concerns or performing legitimate safety-related functions in relation to
their workplace.
Generally, sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual
favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that could be expected to make a
person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.
Advice and assistance on how to deal with discrimination or sexual harassment can be provided
by:

the Australian Human Rights Commission

the Fair Work Commission

state and territory anti-discrimination, equal opportunity and human rights tribunals.

Contact details are provided in Chapter 4.

WORKPLACE CONFLICT
Differences of opinion and disagreements are generally not workplace bullying. People can
have differences and disagreements in the workplace without engaging in repeated,
unreasonable behaviour that creates a risk to health and safety. However, in some cases,
conflict that is not managed may escalate to the point where it becomes workplace bullying.
If workplace conflict is affecting you, you should raise your concerns with your manager,
supervisor, human resources officer or grievance officer.

1.3. How can workplace bullying occur?


Workplace bullying can be carried out in a variety of ways including through verbal or physical
abuse, through email, text messages, internet chat rooms, instant messaging or other social
media channels. In some cases workplace bullying can continue outside of the workplace.
Workplace bullying can be directed at a single worker or group of workers and be carried out by
one or more workers. It can occur:

sideways between workers

downwards from supervisors or managers to workers, or

upwards from workers to supervisors or managers.

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Workplace bullying can also be directed at or perpetrated by other people at the workplace, for
example clients, patients, students, customers and members of the public.

1.4. Impact of workplace bullying


Workplace bullying can be harmful to the person experiencing it and to those who witness it,
although the effects will vary depending on individual characteristics as well as the situation and
may include one or more of the following:

distress, anxiety, panic attacks or sleep disturbance

physical illness, for example muscular tension, headaches, fatigue and digestive problems

reduced work performance, concentration and decision making ability

loss of self-esteem and self-confidence

feelings of isolation

deteriorating relationships with colleagues, family and friends

depression, and

thoughts of suicide.

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2 WHAT CAN YOU DO?

2.1. Are you experiencing or witnessing workplace


bullying?
To be able to take the most appropriate action it is important to first establish whether the
behaviour you are experiencing or witnessing is workplace bullying. Below are some
questions that you could consider to determine if certain behaviour amounts to workplace
bullying.
Is the behaviour being repeated?
Repeated behaviour refers to the persistent nature of the behaviour and can involve
a range of behaviours over time.
If it is a one-off incident of unreasonable behaviour, it is not workplace bullying.
Is the behaviour unreasonable?
Unreasonable behaviour means behaviour that a reasonable person, having
considered the circumstances, would see as unreasonable including behaviour that
is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.
If you answer yes to these questions and you consider that your health and safety is being
impacted as a result (for example, in one of the ways outlined in Chapter 1.4), you may be
experiencing or witnessing workplace bullying. There are circumstances when perceived
unfair treatment can actually be a result of miscommunication. It can be difficult in times of
stress to be objective about what is happening. Therefore, in considering the questions
above, it may be helpful to seek the perspective of another person who is not involved, if you
need extra support, you can discuss the situation with a human resources officer, health and
safety representative (HSR) or union representative.
If you are experiencing or witnessing any behaviour that involves violence, for example
physical assault or the threat of physical assault, it should be reported to the police.

2.2. Next steps if the behaviour does not appear to


be workplace bullying
If you remain upset or unhappy because of the behaviour, you could seek advice on
strategies that may help resolve the situation and how you are feeling. For example, if the
behaviour was reasonable management action or a one-off incident but it still seems
unreasonable to you, you could raise your concerns with the person directly or with your
supervisor, manager or human resources officer. If necessary, conflict resolution, mediation
or counselling services may assist in resolving the issue.
If you believe the behaviour involves unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment, you can
seek advice and assistance from your union representative, the Australian Human Rights

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Commission, your relevant State or Territory anti-discrimination, equal opportunity or human


rights tribunals, the Fair Work Commission, or seek legal advice.
You should continue to monitor the situation over time to ensure it does not escalate to
workplace bullying.

2.3. Next steps if the behaviour does appear to be


workplace bullying
REFER TO YOUR WORKPLACE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES
Check whether your workplace has a bullying policy and reporting procedure. The policy
should outline how the organisation will prevent and respond to workplace bullying.
Your supervisor, manager or human resources officer should be able to tell you whether
there are relevant policies in place. Information on your workplace bullying policy may also
be provided in:

induction information, awareness sessions, in-house newsletters or displayed on notice


boards

documents such as a code of conduct, or

discussions at staff meetings and in team briefings.

SPEAK TO THE OTHER PERSON


If you feel safe and comfortable doing so, calmly tell the other person that you object to their
behaviour and ask that it stop. They may not realise the effect their behaviour is having on
you or others, and your feedback may give them the opportunity to change their actions. You
may also consider suggesting an alternate way for them to behave that is acceptable to you,
however whether this is appropriate will depend on the circumstances.
If you choose to deal with the situation personally you should consider:

acting as early as possible

raising your concerns informally and in a non-confrontational manner

not engaging in retaliatory behaviour

focusing on the unwanted behaviour and how it makes you feel, rather than the person,
and

being open to feedback.

You can ask your HSR, union representative, supervisor, or a human resources officer for
assistance and support, including accompanying you when you approach the person.

SEEK ADVICE
If you are unsure about what to do if you have experienced or witnessed workplace bullying,
you may wish to seek advice from an independent person. Advice should be sought from a
person who is objective and impartial and who has knowledge of the options available for
dealing with workplace bullying. This may include:

your manager or supervisor

human resources area

workplace harassment contact officer

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health and safety representative

worker representative, and

employee assistance programs.

REPORT IT
Workplace bullying should always be reported. If you believe you are experiencing or
witnessing workplace bullying, you should report it as early as possible. Your employer (or
other PCBU) cannot address the problem if they do not know about it.
You can make a workplace bullying report verbally or in writing, including by:

informing your supervisor or manager

informing your HSR or union representative and asking them to make a report on your
behalf, or

using other established reporting procedures.

If your supervisor is the person whose behaviour is concerning you, consider reporting their
behaviour through other channels, for example through your HSR.
HSRs can make a report on your behalf if you give them permission. They can also give you
advice on how to make a report. HSRs do not have any other role or responsibility for
resolving the matter. They may, however, work with your organisation to improve the policies
and procedures for preventing and responding to workplace bullying.
If the workplace bullying behaviour has not stopped, you may be able to make a complaint to
an external body such as the Fair Work Commission. For more information, please refer to
page 12 of this publication.

2.4. What to do if you are accused of workplace bullying


Being accused of bullying behaviour can be upsetting and come as a shock but it is
important to be open to feedback from others, and if necessary, be prepared to change your
behaviour. Keep the following points in mind:

GIVE THE COMPLAINT SERIOUS CONSIDERATION


If someone approaches you about your behaviour, try to remain calm and avoid aggravating
what is likely to be an already difficult situation.
Listen carefully to the particular concerns expressed. Discuss how you might work together
more effectively.
The other person is more likely to share their views with you if you choose a neutral space
and ask open questions without attempting to justify your behaviour. Even so, the other
person may not be comfortable speaking to you.

SEEK AN OBJECTIVE OPINION ABOUT THE BEHAVIOUR


If you do not understand the complaint or would like a second opinion about your behaviour,
discuss the matter with someone you trust. This might be your manager, or a counsellor
engaged through your organisation's employee assistance program. Any discussion should
be strictly confidential. It is important not to unintentionally escalate the situation by
discussing the issue openly.

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If you believe you are being unjustly accused, or the complaint is malicious, you should
discuss this with your manager or human resources officer. It may be that an informal
discussion between you, the person making the allegation and a third party will solve the
problem.

ADJUST UNREASONABLE BEHAVIOUR


If you have been made aware that your behaviour is considered unreasonable, stop or
modify the behaviour and review what you are doing.
If, after careful consideration, you believe that your behaviour is reasonable management
action, you should discuss this with your supervisor, manager, or a human resources officer.
Even in those circumstances, it may be possible to modify future management action to
minimise the risk that others might find it unreasonable.
If you are found to have continued to bully someone after their objection to your bullying
behaviour was made known to you, your persistence, or the fact that you have not modified
your behaviour, is likely to be taken into account in disciplinary or other proceedings.

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3 WHAT SHOULD YOU EXPECT FROM YOUR


WORKPLACE?

A PCBU has the primary duty under the WHS Act to ensure, so far as is reasonably
practicable, that workers and other persons are not exposed to health and safety risks
arising from work carried out as part of the business or undertaking. This includes having
systems in place to prevent and respond to workplace bullying.
If you inform your workplace that you are experiencing workplace bullying, or someone has
made a report against you, your workplace should:

respond to the bullying report quickly and reasonably in accordance with the policies and
procedures at your workplace

treat all reports seriously

inform you of the process of how the matter will be dealt with and estimated timeframes

keep you informed of progress and explain reasons for delays

advise you of the name and details of a contact person

maintain confidentiality

allow all parties to explain their version of events

remain neutral and impartial towards everyone involved

advise you of support options available to you, such as counselling

allow you to have a support person present at interviews and meetings, for example a
friend, HSR or union representative

keep records, for example of the bullying report, conversations, meetings and interviews

attempt to resolve the matter, and

communicate to you the outcome of actions taken and the reasons for decisions made
and any right of review if the parties are not satisfied with the outcome.

If the matter is resolved, your workplace should follow-up with you at a later date to check on
your health and safety and review whether the actions taken have been effective. Your
workplace may also provide you with ongoing support or advise you of external support
services, such as an employee assistance program.
If your workplace decides that a report should be investigated further, it should inform you of
the further investigation process. The investigator should be a suitably skilled, neutral person
from within the workplace or an external investigator.

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4 WHERE CAN YOU GO FOR HELP?

If you have not been able to resolve the situation within your workplace, there are a number
of agencies and organisations that may be able to offer you further advice and assistance:

Work Health and Safety Regulators


Commonwealth

WorkSafe ACT

Comcare

Website: www.worksafe.act.gov.au

Website: www.comcare.gov.au

Email: worksafe@act.gov.au

Email: general.enquiries@comcare.gov.au

Phone: 02 6207 3000

Phone: 1300 366 979

New South Wales

Victoria

SafeWork NSW

WorkSafe Victoria

Website: www.safework.nsw.gov.au

Website: www.worksafe.vic.gov.au

Email: contact@safework.nsw.gov.au

Email: info@worksafe.vic.gov.au

Phone: 13 10 50

Phone: 1800 136 089 or 03 9641 1444


South Australia

Queensland
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland

SafeWork SA

Website: www.worksafe.qld.gov.au

Website: www.safework.sa.gov.au

Phone: 1300 362 128

Email: help.safework@sa.gov.au

Western Australia

Phone: 1300 365 255


Tasmania
WorkSafe Tasmania
Website: www.worksafe.tas.gov.au
Email: wstinfo@justice.tas.gov.au

WorkSafe WA
Website:
www.commerce.wa.gov.au/WorkSafe
Email: safety@commerce.wa.gov.au
Phone: 1300 307 877 (within Western
Australia)

Phone: 1300 366 322 (within Tasmania)


Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory
NT WorkSafe
Website: www.worksafe.nt.gov.au
Email: ntworksafe@nt.gov.au
Phone: 1800 019 115

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Fair Work Commission


Workers who reasonably believe they have been bullied at work may apply to the Fair Work
Commission for an order to stop the workplace bullying.
The Fair Work Commissions anti-bullying jurisdiction does not cover all Australian workers, for
example those employed by local councils and state governments. The Fair Work Commission
can assist workers to identify if they are eligible to apply for an order.
The Fair Work Commissions anti-bullying jurisdiction is limited to preventing the worker from
being bullied at work. The Fair Work Commission cannot issue fines or penalties and cannot
award financial compensation. The focus is on resolving the matter and enabling normal
working relationships to resume.
The Fair Work Commission will make an order if satisfied the worker has been bullied at work
by an individual or a group of individuals and there is a risk the worker will continue to be bullied
at work. The Fair Work Commission will take into account:

internal procedures available to resolve grievances and disputes at the workers workplace

final or interim outcomes arising from an investigation carried out by the workers employer
or other body, and

any other matters the Fair Work Commission considers relevant.

Orders could be based on behaviour such as threats made outside the workplace, if those
threats result in the worker being bullied at work, for example threats made by email or
telephone.
Further information is available from:
National Helpline: 1300 799 675
Website: www.fwc.gov.au

Human Rights and anti-discrimination agencies


Commonwealth
Australian Human Rights Commission

South Australia

Website: www.humanrights.gov.au

Equal Opportunity Commission

Email: infoservice@humanrights.gov.au

Website: www.eoc.sa.gov.au

Phone: (02) 9284 9600 or 1300 656 419


(National Information Service)

Email: eoc@agd.sa.gov.au

TTY: 1800 620 241


Victoria
Equal Opportunity and Human Rights
Commission
Website:
www.humanrightscommission.vic.gov.au
Email: information@veohrc.vic.gov.au

Phone: (08) 8207 1977 or 1800 188 163


(Toll free for regional SA)
TTY: (08) 8207 1911
Tasmania
Office of the Anti-Discrimination
Commissioner
Website: www.antidiscrimination.tas.gov.au
Email: antidiscrimination@justice.tas.gov.au

Phone: 1300 891 848

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Phone: (03) 6165 7515 or 1300 305 062


(Statewide local call)
Web SMS: 0409 401 083

Queensland
Anti-Discrimination Commission
Website: www.adcq.qld.gov.au/

Australian Capital Territory

Email: info@adcq.qld.gov.au

Human Rights Commission

Phone: 1300 130 670

Website: www.hrc.act.gov.au/

TTY: 1300 130 680

Email: human.rights@act.gov.au
Phone: (02) 6205 2222

Western Australia
Equal Opportunity Commission

SMS: 0466 169997

Website: www.eoc.wa.gov.au

TTY: (02) 6205 1666

Email: eoc@eoc.wa.gov.au

New South Wales

Phone: (08) 9216 3900

Anti-Discrimination Board

Northern Territory

Website:
www.antidiscrimination.justice.nsw.gov.au
Email: adbcontact@agd.nsw.gov.au
Phone: (02) 9268 5555 or 1800 670 812
(Toll free for regional NSW)
TTY: (02) 9268 5522

Anti-Discrimination Commission
Website: www.adc.nt.gov.au/
Email: antidiscrimination@nt.gov.au
Phone : (08) 8999 1444 or 1800 813 846
(Freecall)

SUPPORT SERVICES
Lifeline

13 11 14

Beyond Blue

1300 224 636

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